Maintenance Q&As

Tips, Tricks, & Pitfalls in Maintenance Planning & Scheduling

Answered January 29 2020

Every manager, company, business, and industry that employs multiple people struggle from time to time with planning and scheduling. It’s tricky balancing the needs of the company and the needs of the employees in a way that is economically viable. 

New systems, computers, cooperative employees, and much more can go some of the way to solving these problems, but eventually, they circle back around the root issues behind company pitfalls. Sometimes it may even seem impossible to break out of this cycle of frustration. 

That’s where knowing some tips, tricks, and common pitfalls can really help everyone concerned. While some suggestions may be specific to an industry, or even to a particular company, a basic knowledge of what works for others can be great assistance to companies struggling with planning, scheduling, or both!

Let’s take a look at the most common situations that companies face that lead to the need for better planning and scheduling solutions. Then, we can move to the most helpful tips and tricks to avoid pitfalls in planning and scheduling. Finally, we explore the different options that companies have today to solve these problems.

A brief overview of common situations

In most cases, the tips and tricks that people use in planning and scheduling employee workloads are a direct result of the different pitfalls they have discovered. A company’s workarounds within a computerized maintenance system may be developed because the system in question does not allow them to perform a critical part or task. This leads to issues down the road such as confusion, misunderstandings, and more.

Another common situation is when a company is using a manual system or a software system to plan and schedule tasks that is a bad fit for the company. For example, a 3 to 5 person team does not need an enterprise management software system, but they could possibly benefit from a work order system. 

While manual systems or missized systems may work in the short term, they are setting you up for failure in the future.

Other common situations include:

  • Expecting that your employees will understand complicated software
  • Not giving people enough time to adjust to a new system
  • Neglecting scheduling and planning in general
  • Expecting that people understand the system without checking in and making sure that they do
  • Using overly complicated systems
  • “Saving” money on systems that are glitchy, unreliable, or otherwise faulty
  • Backlogging systemic issues that keep cropping up
  • Ignoring employee feedback 
  • And much more. 

But what about the situations in which you have a system that is properly sized and that everyone has a pretty basic understanding of how it works? What are some tips and tricks that smooth out the inevitable bumps in the planning and scheduling phases of your business operations? 

General tips for maintenance planning and scheduling

Invest in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)

The first tip that all companies should consider, regardless of size, is to invest in some kind of computerized system for planning and scheduling that fits their needs. The bigger the company, the more sophisticated this software will need to be in order to keep up with the demands that you will inevitably place.

While hard copy systems may work now for certain small companies, they probably don’t work as well as you think. They are also inevitably going the way of the dinosaur, particularly for companies that wish to scale their growth. Some of the different systems that may be used include:

The next thing to keep in mind is that it’s all very well to have a quality, top-of-the-line computer system. However, it doesn’t do you or the company as a whole well if the employees don’t know how to use it. 

Whatever system you choose to use, it should be easy to train new people on, sustainable for the long term, and simple to scale as your company grows. If the perfect system for your needs at present does not scale, consider how hard it will be to move to another system in the future and take that into account before you make the decision to buy.

Clearly define project timelines

After your system is in place, it’s time to look at the projects in question. Are they clearly defined? Are timelines set in place for completion? Is this information accessible to your workers? While you may think that this information is all present and in your software, in many cases it’s not. Make sure that your parameters for your projects are clearly defined and accessible before you move on. 

It’s also worthwhile (and a great trick to making sure that your employees are assigned to the proper tasks) to evaluate the people that are creating your plans and schedules. Is maintenance planning and scheduling a strong point of theirs? Or have they been simply put there because you needed somebody there and they were available? Are there other people that could do a better job? Do you need to hire an expert for this position? 

Ensure consistent planning and scheduling

Finally, make sure that proper, up-to-date planning and scheduling is actually happening on a regular basis. While the day-to-day routine of a small janitorial company may not change that much, the needs of your company will evolve, which affects all departments. One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is having outdated planning and scheduling. Do your scheduling and planning practices address the needs and challenges of your company today?

It’s understandable that most companies need a little help during this process. If that’s something you’re worried about, we have you covered. Here’s how you can plan and schedule and day-to-day operations today!

How to create a template for maintenance planning

Creating a template for planning can be boiled down into six steps:

  1. Figure out exactly what you need from your software
  2. Make a list of the things that it would be nice to have
  3. Be realistic about your expectations. Not everything can fit into one piece of software.
  4. Streamline your suite of software and systems into what will actually be needed and what will actually be used by team members 
  5. Match the two up, if there are differences between them
  6. Finally, test it out and see how it works!

Naturally, the execution of these six steps is going to vary, depending on your individual needs. However, these steps are great starting points, particularly for people that feel bogged down by the task of maintenance planning.

Specific planning suggestions and guidance

Regardless of how you start your planning process, keep it simple! No one benefits from convoluted and complicated plans. People simply don’t have the bandwidth to process all the information, in order to figure out what they have to do in the next half-hour. Simplicity is key to a smooth plan and schedule.

Other specific planning suggestions include:

  • Keep it high-level, as opposed to granular. 
  • Keep it realistic. What kind of plan are you creating? Are you creating a list of goals that you want your company to reach the next five years, a plan for the next quarter, or a crisis plan?
  • Keep it organized. Unorganized plans lead to chaos and poor execution. They can also make scheduling very difficult.  
  • Keep it accountable. Assign specific individuals to tasks, so responsibilities are clear. 

Streamlining and optimizing your scheduling

It’s very hard to schedule appropriately without a solid plan backing it up. Once your overall and individual plans are firmed up, your scheduling can be streamlined and optimized. Some simple tips include:

  • Start with the basic schedule.
  • Assess workloads.
  • Listen to your employees.
  • Adjust and reschedule as necessary.

Finally, when you find a schedule that works, use it as long as it works. More specific tips and tricks will depend on the industry in question. 

Industry-specific tips for maintenance planning and scheduling 

Up to this point, we’ve been talking in general terms. These only go so far, especially for industries such as manufacturing, service, and agriculture. Here’s a selection of industry-specific tips that address the most common challenges found in these industries.

Maintenance Planning & Scheduling in Manufacturing 

One of the peskiest problems in the manufacturing industry is using a scheduling system that simply doesn’t work. Many companies rely on outdated spreadsheets and manual systems to get the job done, which leads to disasters and failure.

It can be hard to convince people that they need a system other than the ones in place. This is particularly true if your current system works “good enough.” If you’re dealing with the other two common problems (maxed out resources and disconnected areas), the struggle might be a little easier, but it’s still a challenge.  

In order to make life a bit easier, consider a free trial of a computerized maintenance management software or another software system designed to make your life easier. This gives you the appropriate data needed to prove that your manufacturing company truly needs to update their systems.

Maintenance Planning & Scheduling in Retail 

Retail business owners and companies face the dual challenge of large workforces and the huge quantities of inventory. Smaller businesses need to deal with employee dynamics, complicated schedules, and other unique challenges. And everyone has to deal with employee schedules, requested time off, shift swapping, and other time-consuming scheduling conflicts. 

Flexible software systems are a must-have in these situations, whether you’re dealing with a team of four, or a multimillion-dollar enterprise. 

Maintenance Planning & Scheduling in Agriculture 

Farmers face a wide variety of challenges that are chiefly or completely of their control. Weather, machinery, labor, storage, and more all must be taken into account when planning for the next year’s crops. And this must be done well in advance.

In these situations, it is best to have a system that can keep track of all these different factors, analyze them, and predict future outcomes. 

Maintenance Planning & Scheduling in Recreation 

Time management is something that many recreational businesses have trouble with. Customers, employees, incentives, and management often struggle with managing the most precious resource of all: time. Other struggles could include scheduling conflicts, shift swapping, and more. 

Comprehensive schedules and deadlines could go a long way to helping everyone manage their time and resources in an organized and timely fashion. 

Maintenance Planning & Scheduling in Restaurants

Siloed communication can restrict many restaurants’ growth. Restaurants depend on people, both customers and employees. Do you take this into account when you plan and schedule? Many places do not. The ones that do thrive.

Simple software systems can have immense impacts on these situations. People feel heard, can better communicate their needs to management, and have an easier time tracking hours, tips, and other things.

Preparing for unexpected challenges

When working with people the most unexpected things often happen. While proper planning and scheduling can help reduce these issues, issues can often slip through. How do you create a sustainable plan for pitfalls and schedule around unplanned activities?

It’s a difficult balance to strike. On the one hand, too much disaster planning can lead to stagnant workflows and inefficiencies. On the other hand, if you don’t have a plan to fall back on when unexpected issues arise, the company will be left high and dry to deal with the situation.

Planning and scheduling, by its nature, deals with every day of the company’s life. However, alternate plans smooth over the issues and pitfalls that inevitably arise. Here’s how you can plan and schedule around the glitches, bumps, and detours.

Create specific protocols for your business

It may seem counterintuitive to work pitfall planning into your overall planning routine. However, you can ensure success by creating protocols and/or standard operating procedures.

This is particularly valuable in industries such as manufacturing, maintenance, and others that focus on fixing other people’s issues, mistakes, and other challenges that they are facing.

As a general rule, the best ways to do this are going to depend on your company’s unique needs. The important thing to do is to remember to plan in time in case something goes wrong. With proper preventative and proactive maintenance, you can discover the most common pitfalls and plan to avoid them when they happen.

It’s important to note that the above only applies to inevitable and unforeseen, but still predictable, situations. Obviously, when things keep going wrong, you need a plan to fix them. The best preventative maintenance and backup plans can only work if there is a steady track record of care for the company’s assets already in place. Pitfall planning cannot encompass every situation that arises in a business.

Collect metrics around why a problem occured

Whatever software you use should be flexible enough to allow scheduling around unplanned issues in emergencies. It should also be easy to log the time and resources spent on these emergencies so that the company can analyze the issues at its leisure. And then resources should be spent on studying these situations.

The goal behind this study is to prevent these issues cropping up in the future so that they will not need to be scheduled around again. To be absolutely clear, this is not an endorsement of devoting time to emergencies. Instead, you are analyzing previous challenges to better prepare for the future and find solutions. 

Simply put, your software system should be flexible enough to schedule around unplanned issues and your employees should feel free to work on unplanned issues. Are both of these things present in your system? How about the systems that you are considering? Do your employees act proactively when issues come up and does the company as a whole support these efforts or not? 

In conclusion

For company, planning and scheduling are rather like going to the dentist and the doctor. It’s something that has to be done so that other things can function in their intended manner. 

Continuing with our analogy, people who forget to go to the doctor the dentist generally have more troubles down the road than people who do have regular appointments. The same can be said for companies that do not pay attention to planning and scheduling.

What does your planning and scheduling look like at your business? Are you happy with the way things are going, or do some changes need to be made? If so, how will you streamline and optimize your maintenance planning and scheduling protocols?

Careful consideration of these questions is the first step toward an investment in your future. 

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